Emmet G. Sullivan

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Emmet Sullivan
Emmet G. Sullivan 2012.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Assumed office
June 16, 1994
Appointed byBill Clinton
Preceded byLouis F. Oberdorfer
Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
In office
Appointed byGeorge H. W. Bush
Preceded byJames A. Belson
Succeeded byInez Smith Reid
Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
In office
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byPosition created[1]
Succeeded byBrook Hedge
Personal details
Emmet Gael Sullivan

(1947-06-04) June 4, 1947 (age 72)
Washington, D.C.
EducationHoward University (BA, JD)

Emmet Gael Sullivan (born June 4, 1947) is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.[2]

He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Howard University. He worked in private practice for more than a decade at Houston & Gardner, becoming a name partner in 1980. He was appointed to the bench of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as an Associate Judge in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush and to the federal bench in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.[3]

Education and career[edit]

Sullivan was born in Washington, D.C. in 1947 and attended local schools. He graduated from McKinley Technology High School in 1964. In 1968, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Howard University, a historically black university, and in 1971 a Juris Doctor from the Howard University School of Law.

Upon graduation from law school, Sullivan received a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship. He was assigned to the Neighborhood Legal Services Program in Washington, D.C., where he worked for one year. The following year, he served as a law clerk to Superior Court Judge James A. Washington Jr., a former professor and dean of Howard University School of Law.

In 1973, Sullivan joined the law firm of Houston & Gardner, co-founded by Charles Hamilton Houston, who had expanded Howard University Law School as its dean, and led litigation for the NAACP to overturn racially restrictive laws. Sullivan became a partner and was actively engaged in the general practice of law with that firm.

In August 1980, his partner, William C. Gardner, was appointed as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Sullivan was a name partner in the successor firm of Houston, Sullivan & Gardner. He also taught as an adjunct professor at the Howard University School of Law and has served as a member of the visiting faculty at Harvard Law School's Trial Advocacy Workshop.

Sullivan was appointed by President Reagan to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on October 3, 1984. On November 25, 1991, Sullivan was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to serve as an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Federal judicial service[edit]

Sullivan was nominated by President Bill Clinton on March 22, 1994, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated by Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 15, 1994, and received his commission on June 16, 1994.

Judicial conduct[edit]

On July 3, 2019, after Sullivan received a message regarding a July 12, 2019 event co-sponsored by judiciary branch's research and education agency, he forwarded the email via "Reply all," to about 45 judges and their staffs to alert them to an upcoming climate-change seminar. His note said only, "just FYI." Within an hour, Senior Appeals Court Judge A. Raymond Randolph of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, replied with a response to Sullivan and all those who had been copied on the forwarded email. He questioned Sullivan's ethics and recommended he get "back into the business of judging, which are (sic) what you are being paid to do. As a former chairman of the federal judiciary's ethics committee, I think you have crossed the line. Should I report you? I don’t know?"[4] Characterizing Sullivan's first message as having subjected, "...our colleagues to this nonsense," Randolph suggested he had breached judicial decorum: "The jurisdiction assigned to you does not include saving the planet. A little hubris (sic) would be welcomed in many of your latest public displays. The supposedly (sic) science and stuff you are now sponsoring is nothing of the sort."[4] Sullivan responded to Randolph and all who had been copied: "I sincerely regret that you were offended by my email! I merely forwarded an email announcing a seminar sponsored in conjunction with the support of the Federal Judicial Center. I have no stake in that seminar." Two other judges defended Sullivan to those copied on the exchange, one writing to explain the purpose of the Center's presentation and noting that a board which was chaired by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., had approved of the event.[4]. The second characterized Randolph's outburst as "accusatory," and "quite disturbing."[4]

Notable cases[edit]

Sullivan presided over a number of habeas corpus petitions in the early 21st century submitted on behalf of men detained by the United States military at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as part of President George W. Bush's response to the 9/11 attacks of terrorism.[5]

Sullivan presided over the 2008 trial of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted of seven felony ethics violations in October. During the trial, the judge refused requests by the defense for a mistrial to be declared, after information was revealed that the prosecution had withheld exculpatory Brady material.[6][7] Eight days after the guilty verdict, Stevens narrowly lost his reelection bid.[8] As more evidence of prosecutorial misconduct became known in early 2009, Judge Sullivan held four prosecutors in civil contempt of court.[9] On April 1, 2009, following a Justice Department probe that found additional evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, the Department of Justice recommended that Stevens' conviction be dismissed.[10] On April 7, 2009, Sullivan set aside the conviction and appointed a lawyer to investigate the prosecution team for criminal contempt.[11] Subsequently, one of the four prosecutors held in contempt committed suicide.[12] Ultimately, Sullivan dismissed the civil contempt charges,[13] and no additional charges were brought against the prosecutors.[14]

In 2014, Sullivan was presiding over a case, Judicial Watch v. IRS,[15] related to an ongoing investigation into the 2013 IRS controversy. There was an attempt to determine where the deleted emails of former IRS employee Lois Lerner had gone, what damage to her computer hard drive occurred, and what steps the IRS had taken to recover the information contained in the emails and on the hard drive.[16][17]

In 2015 Sullivan presided over a FOIA lawsuit involving the matter of Hillary Clinton's private email use while Secretary of State.[18]

In the case of United States of America v. Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump was randomly assigned to District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras as shown in the indictment released on December 1, 2017.[19] On December 7, 2017, Contreras recused himself from the sentencing hearings to take place in the Flynn case.[20] The case was randomly reassigned to Sullivan.[21]

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a woman and her child fled domestic abuse in El Salvador to seek asylum in the U.S. However the mother was removed from her detention facility and likely put on a plane on August 9, 2018, despite Justice Department promises that she and others would not be deported before the judge could rule on their cases. Sullivan demanded, "Turn that plane around." He threatened to hold those responsible for the removal in contempt of court, starting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, if the situation was not rectified. A Department of Homeland Security official stated, "We are complying with the court's requests...the plaintiffs will not disembark and will be promptly returned to the United States." An ACLU suit challenged a recent decision by Sessions to make it nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence and gangs to qualify for asylum in the U.S. The lawsuit claims the woman and her young daughter came to the U.S. from El Salvador after twenty years of spousal abuse and her receiving death threats from a violent gang."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Position created by act of Congress, 18 May 1984 JNC (September 30, 2018). "District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission Report of Recommendations and Chief Judge Designations and Presidential Appointments to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia May 8, 1975 to September 30, 2013" (PDF). Judicial Nomination Commission of the District of Columbia. p. 13. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  2. ^ "Emmet G. Sullivan". US District Court. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2008.
  3. ^ Report of District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission
  4. ^ a b c d A federal judge in D.C. hit 'Reply All,' and now there's a formal question about his decorum, Washington Post, Ann E. Marimow, August 16, 2019. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  5. ^ "Respondents' response to Court's August 7, 2006 order" (PDF). United States Department of Defense. August 15, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 27, 2008. Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  6. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (October 2, 2008). "Judge Berates Prosecutors in Trial of Senator" – via NYTimes.com.
  7. ^ Ryan, Jason; Cook, Theresa (October 2, 2008). "Judge Denies Stevens Mistrial Request". ABC News. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  8. ^ Kane, Paul (November 19, 2008). "Sen. Ted Stevens Loses Reelection Bid". Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (February 13, 2009). "4 Prosecutors in Stevens Case Held in Contempt". New York Times. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  10. ^ Perskey, Anna Stolley (October 2009). "A Cautionary Tale: The Ted Stevens Prosecution". Washington Lawyer. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  11. ^ "Sen. Ted Stevens's conviction set aside". CNN. April 7, 2009.
  12. ^ Duggan, Paul (September 28, 2010). "Justice Dept. lawyer kills self". Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  13. ^ Hsu, Spencer S (October 12, 2010). "Judge lifts civil contempt findings against Justice Department lawyers in Ted Stevens case". Washington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  14. ^ Gerstein, Josh (March 14, 2012). "Appeals court won't delay Stevens report". Politico. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  15. ^ Judicial Watch (June 27, 2014). "Motion for Status Conference". Judicial Watch. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  16. ^ Andrew Zajac (August 14, 2014). "Judge Prods IRS on Effort to Save Lois Lerner's E-Mail". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  17. ^ Kevin G. Hall (August 14, 2014). "Group: Inquiry ordered into lost IRS emails". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  18. ^ Jason Donner (August 20, 2015). "Judge orders State Dept. to work on recovering emails, suggests Clinton violated policy". Fox News. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  19. ^ "Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI in Russia Probe". Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  20. ^ "Judge recuses in Michael Flynn case". POLITICO. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  21. ^ "Judge presiding over Michael Flynn criminal case is recused: court". Reuters. December 8, 2017. Retrieved December 8, 2017.
  22. ^ Judge threatens to hold Jeff Sessions in contempt Mobile native's Justice Department deported woman, WKRG, Peter Albrecht, August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 10, 2018.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
James A. Belson
Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Inez Smith Reid
Preceded by
Louis F. Oberdorfer
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia